Back with a band

Weddings played a key role in keeping the industry active During the pandemic. We track new trends, demands and challenges the segment entails now

Deserted noiselesss roads - with no soul in sight, not even a decibel of sound coming from near or far. A wedding season without bands belting out the latest dance numbers from Bollywood is something unimaginable in India. And yet, this was the reality back in 2020 when the pandemic hit us. With ceremonies and guest lists reduced almost to a nil, weddings almost became a private affair, often happening at lawns inside homes or private farmhouses. 

However, as soon as the lockdown began lifting, weddings too started getting back their pomp and gaiety, thereby breathing a fresh lease of life into the hospitality industry, which had taken a major slump. And until travel resumed, weddings were the only source of revenue for hotels. Despite all the restrictions and lower number of attendees, they helped the industry remain afloat in its hour of darkness. 

“Weddings was the only segment where we were able to have some activity. In Maharashtra, the initial capping was for 25 pax a wedding. We went out-of-the-box to make arrangements for these, even undertook the decoration work to keep the venue and people safe and free of harm’s way. Weddings helped us sustain,” says Santanu Guha Roy, General Manager, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Karjat. Barun Gupta, Director of Sales and Marketing, Hyatt Regency Delhi, says, “As uncertainties about international travel continued to loom large during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, we witnessed an upsurge in Indian weddings being held in domestic destinations. Our hotel heavily banked upon this social segment to keep the cash reserves intact at that precarious time. This was the only segment that was working during that period. Due to government guidelines and restrictions on the number of guests, though weddings had become small, they didn’t stop. We hosted many small intimate residential weddings – some just had 25-50 people. Overall, the wedding sector contributed in a big way to keep us afloat in those unprecedented times.”

Agrees Madhav Sehgal, General Manager, The Leela Palace Bengaluru: “During the pandemic, wedding segment contributed majorly to hotel revenues. Weddings supported us when regular business travel had come to a complete standstill.” India has several beautiful properties that are apt for holding weddings, ranging from luxury and exotic to heritage and iconic destination and for many, weddings are a primary source of revenue. For instance, Fairmont Jaipur would be organising at least 102 weddings by December 31 this year and 74 of these have already been arranged. For this property, weddings and MICE account for 70 per cent of the business.

Balancing cost to scale

Though weddings kept the industry alive, smaller weddings meant lower revenues. “Our cost remains the same regardless of the size because there are air conditioning and other expenses. Moreover, the protocols demanded that we spend a little more on ensuring safety. We had to keep people in the hotel, our staff could not go out so we had to maintain bubbles for that. And, everything has a cost attached to it. Managing finance was a bit challenging since one cannot charge smaller wedding parties much,” says Sharad Datta, General Manager, The Westin Mumbai Garden City. 

Interestingly, what happened during the pandemic changed the course of future weddings as is evident from the comments by Rajat Sethi, General Manager, ITC Grand Bharat, Gurugram, “People are now choosing destination weddings, but they don’t make it a day-long-affair with a large number of guests. They have full engagement with their relatives and close friends for two-three days, for which they move to a hotel - apart from the wedding, all pre-wedding events are also held at the hotel. In this case, the cost per head goes up because the numbers have reduced but the overall cost for us remains the same because people are spending the same amount on lesser number of people.”

Youth-driven weddings

Apart from small weddings, many other trends have emerged post-pandemic, the key one being the bride and the groom are now on the driving seat when it comes to planning their wedding. “The clientele nowadays has gone digital. All the decisions are taken by the bride and the groom. Their friends come from all over the world, and everyone carries four different gadgets as a result of which we have to invest a lot in technology. Younger clients want to have super-luxurious venues but are very cautious about their spending, and conscious about sustainability aspects. We have to work accordingly,” says Rajiv Kapoor, General Manager, Fairmont Jaipur, which is among the most popular wedding destinations in India.

The young have their own ideas about décor as well as cocktails. “Subtle colours are much in vogue. The bar is no more a regular feature. Cocktails are now made as per the choices of the to-be-wedded couple and are named after them. So, there is a lot of personalisation happeneing in all aspects,” shares Rajesh Namby, General Manager of Raffles Udaipur. 

Destination weddings in remote locations are also in demand. “Our property is witnessing wedding parties not only from nearby regions but also from Delhi; there is one even from South India,” says Rajesh Rajpurohit, General Manager, Radisson Blu Resort Dharamshala. “Talking about Hyatt Regency Delhi specifically, we notice a trend of advance planning. Immediately after the pandemic, the queries for potential bookings were coming just a month or two before, but now people are planning at least four to five months in advance,” says Gupta adding the scale and magnitude of these events has also changed. “Live streaming is a popular option for guests who are not able to travel from distant destinations due to unavoidable reasons,” he says. “Weddings have evolved from earlier times where these used to be showcase events with huge guest lists and elaborate food spread. In post-Covid era, there is growing demand for chic, private weddings. This coupled with the precedence of quality over quantity and a sense of minimalism has created a platform for luxury hotels,” avers Sehgal.

“Hybrid weddings with limited number of guests and an online telecast of the ceremony along with takeaway meals which started during the pandemic has also gained momentum. While the on-site weddings can never go out of fashion, we definitely expect to witness many hybrid or virtual weddings as well,” opines Bhagwan Balani, General Manager, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai. 

Arranging weddings

Now this can be stressful. For arranging weddings, most hotels choose to have teams assist guests through the experience. However, wedding planners play a key role. Many hotels choose to partner with certain wedding planners, having kept them on their panels, such as Radisson Blu in Karjat. However, others, including Fairmont Jaipur, Radisson Blu in Dharamshala and Raffles Udaipur, choose to allow guests to bring their own wedding planner. 

“No wedding is complete without the partnership between the hotel, the family and the wedding planners. Hotel does its job of providing the rooms, dining and memories while wedding planners look at decorations, arranging the events and artistes, DJs and the concept of the wedding. And all of it is done according to the dream and the budget of the guests. All three of them are highly important to make a wedding event a success,” explains Kapoor.

“Hotels play a crucial role in the lives of wedding planners, and both have to work as a team,” says Prerana Agarwal Saxena, Founder of wedding planning firm, Theme Weavers Designs. “As soon as the hotel has confirmed, they send out an email outlining the procedures to avoid any tricky situations. On the other hand, we get any questions we have about their protocols answered in advance,” she adds. Thereafter, the wedding planner and the hotel staff is in constant touch. “We arrive at the hotel three days in advance to oversee the venue and plan the decor. Everything is discussed in detail, including the menu, buffet, laundry, sound system, luggage, and bride’s entrance,” says Saxena.

“Hotels play a crucial role in the lives of wedding planners, and both have to work as a team,” says Prerana Agarwal Saxena, Founder of wedding planning firm, Theme Weavers Designs. 

The revamped wedding industry is now piggybacking on the youth’s desire to have more customised events with an intimate list of attendees, and hence, they are willing to pay extra to enhance the experience of their guests. For India’s hotel industry, this is an opportunity like no other to showcase creativity to an already willing goldmine of clientele and prove why the country is the hub of topnotch hospitality. 

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - THE WEDDINGS & MICE SPECIAL'


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